I know I’m late to the party, but I just watched the pilot episode of Breaking Bad. Wow, this Walter White guy is a sad, sad man. What we learn in the initial episode is he is a brilliant, accomplished chemist who now attempts to teach chemistry classes to a bunch of unenthused high schoolers. He has just turned 50, his 40ish year old wife is pregnant and his teenage son has MS (or something like it). It’s clear he has money problems – he works a second job at a car wash, his wife fusses at him for a $15 charge on the “card we don’t use, remember”, and his back yard is a wasteland with a dried-up swimming pool.
And then there are the sweaters – in New Mexico. Why, Walter, why? What is with the sweaters? But I digress.
Ok, so he clearly doesn’t seem to be where he wants to be at 50. But, so far, his life is not too much different from many Americans today, right? Then things turn really bad, he passes out at the car wash, tries to get the ambulance to let him out because he doesn’t have good insurance, and later finds out he has lung cancer and two years to live. In an instant, Walter feels his life goes from struggling, but hanging on, to utter despair and hopelessness.
So, what does he do? Well, since this is a television drama, he must choose something dramatic and somewhat “cringe-worthy”, as my husband would say. Even if you haven’t seen the show, you most likely have heard enough about it to know what he chose. He chose to not tell his wife and son about his cancer and in a crazy series of events he partners up with a former student to make crystal meth. Obviously the car wash gig just wasn’t paying the bills. But, a life of crime – maybe, just maybe – that will work. While this bright idea ends in disaster in the pilot, presumably he has some success with it later on or the show wouldn’t have continued for several seasons.
As a financial coach, I truly feel for Walter. My heart goes out to anybody with financial struggles. But, I can’t help but think how his life could have been so much different if he had taken Financial Peace University just a couple of years before we meet Walter. He would have been so much better prepared to face cancer and the possibility of leaving his family fatherless. For starters, he would have had a decent term life insurance policy. No more stress about leaving his wife with debt, no income, and alone with two children. He and his wife would have been living on a written budget and working together on their debt snowball. Working together! That is the most important thing Walter would have learned from the class. Spouses are a team, they communicate, they are open and honest always, they make decisions together. So much more can be accomplished when you know you have each other’s back.
But, there really is no point in overanalyzing what Walter should have done in the past is there? The same goes for each one of us. As much as we want to sometimes, we can’t go back in time and change past decisions. We have to start from where we are today.
So, let’s start from where Walter finds himself in this episode, at the point where he feels his life is crashing down around him. If he had decided to come to me for coaching at that point instead of choosing the crystal meth option, what would I have advised him to do? Since in this theoretical situation, I don’t have access to the details of his finances – income, expenses, savings, debts – I’ll stick with “big picture” issues. First and foremost, this man really, really, really needs to talk to his wife. If he didn’t bring her to the session, I’d let him know there would be no coaching until his wife came with him.
I’d let him know I get it. I get why he doesn’t want his wife to know. He feels he should be the provider, the protector, the MAN. This is truly noble of him. The world would be a much better place if more men lived up to their responsibilities as husbands and fathers and be the MAN for their families. But being the MAN doesn’t mean doing it alone. His wife clearly loves him and is hurting because she already knows something is terribly wrong. She wants to be involved; she wants to help; she doesn’t want to be on the sidelines.
After he had let it all out to his wife and they had had a good cry together (or she had a good cry, I know, I know, real men don’t cry), I would encourage them to find emotional support. Yes, their finances are a mess and need to be dealt with, but when we’re talking about terminal cancer, baby on the way, special needs teenager, this family needs all the love and support they can get. They need to reach out to their family, to support groups, to a church. They need prayer. They need shoulders to cry on. They need people who have been through similar situations to give advice.
For their finances, it’s hard to say much without all the details. But, criminal activity is NOT an option. It is never an option. It might be time for his wife to find a stable job. Currently, she is a writer who hasn’t been writing much. I know this will pain Walter. He doesn’t want his pregnant wife to help support the family. He’s the MAN. Guess what man? It’s time to do what is best for your family. Proverbs 31:10-11 says “Who can find a wife of noble character? For her value is far more than rubies. The heart of her husband has confidence in her and he has no lack of gain.” Have some confidence in your wife, Walter.
It’s time to get organized, have a written budget every month, get proactive in dealing with creditors, letting them know why you can’t pay them but you’re getting your act together as best you can. It may be time to sell stuff, though the scenes in their house indicate they may have already done that. It doesn’t look pretty, but there is hope. There is always hope. Even if the house if foreclosed on, even if bankruptcy is declared, there is still hope.
Speaking of hope, Walter really needs Jesus, doesn’t he? Walter needs to know the unfailing, unconditional love of Jesus. He needs to know that Jesus died on the cross for Walter’s sins. And Jesus is yearning for him to accept His gift of salvation. “For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) He already knows all his worries and fears, He’s just waiting for him to “phone home” and ask for help. He’s just waiting to provide a kind of peace and hope that only He can provide. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7).
I guess if Walter had followed my advice the show wouldn’t have made it past the pilot. It wouldn’t have been dramatic enough. I’m ok with that. Do we really want lives filled with drama and crazy bad decisions? Or do we want a life filled with peace and hope?
I pray your life is nothing like Walter’s, but if you are struggling to find peace and hope with your finances, I’m here to help. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. For all of you Breaking Bad fanatics, I actually did enjoy the show – good writing, good acting, very intense. So don’t be upset with me for wanting it to go in another direction, you know, if it wasn’t a TV show.